Bank on Calcium

Every cell in the body including the bone, heart, nerves and muscles, needs calcium for normal functioning

Woman having milk

We all know that we have 206 bones in our body. The secret is - calcium gives bones the strength to be what they are. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in human beings. Just the way we save money in the bank, the body saves calcium in our bone bank. The reason is simple: every cell in the body including the heart, nerves and muscles, bank on calcium for normal functioning.

Calcium is deposited and withdrawn from your bones on a daily basis depending on your calcium needs. Bone is a living tissue that constantly renews itself. So, you must remember that the main goal of good calcium nutrition is to maintain an adequate supply, so that your bone bank remains safe.

Note: Calcium requirement can increase up to 1,200 mg per day or more in elderly [age more than 50 years] and post-menopausal women.

Fact-file

  • 99 per cent of your body's calcium is stored in your bones and teeth
  • Bones are broken down to keep your blood calcium levels normal, if your diet is inadequate
  • Besides formation of strong bones and teeth, calcium is required to maintain regular heart beat and nerve impulse
  • Calcium can prevent heart problems
  • It is essential for blood clotting
  • It reduces high blood pressure and promotes good sleep
  • It can also prevent cancer

Easy-come and go

Include more of milk and milk products in your daily meals. - milk, curd, buttermilk, soybean, lassi, low fat cheese, low fat paneer, til and dry fish.

  • It is preferable to choose dietary sources over calcium supplements. Calcium-rich foods contain many other nutrients that keep your bones healthy. Many people believe that calcium supplements are the easiest way to acquire calcium, but beware these cannot be popped in at your will. Ask your physician for a prescription. Too much of calcium can lead to problems like kidney stones, iron deficiency and constipation.
  • Vitamin D helps in calcium uptake. Sunlight is practically the cheapest and the best source of vitamin D. Vitamin D supplements can be taken if prescribed by your physician
  • Consume whole grains and calcium foods at different times. Whole grains contain a substance that binds with calcium and prevents its uptake
  • Take a glass of hot milk before sleep - it's a good source of calcium, it's easily absorbed and also aids a good night's slumber
  • Reduce the intake of almonds, spinach and pulses, as these foods interfere with calcium absorption. These foods sure contain sufficient calcium, but their availability to our body is low
  • Manganese can also help to strengthen bones - e.g., cereals, dals, soybean, coconut, til, walnut and ginger
  • Include foods like garlic, onions and egg whites in your diet; these foods contain sulphur, which is required for healthy bones
  • Avoid phosphate containing foods: soft drinks, alcohol, excessive consumption of non-vegetarian foods. They inhibit calcium uptake by the body
  • To improve the calcium content of chapattis, you can add soya flour or ragi powder along with wheat flour. Soya is a good food choice, especially for post-menopausal women. Besides being a good source of calcium, it is also rich in phyto-oestrogen and anti-oxidants.

You can also add milk or curd instead of water, if you like: this will not only improve the calcium content of your chapattis, but also keep them soft.

  • Foods high in salt and sugar should be avoided
  • Excessive consumption of tea and coffee should be avoided, as caffeine increases calcium excretion in the urine
  • Avoid smoking; smoking increases urinary excretion of calcium and reduces bone density
  • Keep active and exercise regularly. Lack of exercise can result in the loss of calcium. This can be reversed with exercise. Walking is the best form of exercise for maintaining bone mass.

It is important to remember that good nutrition is essential for good health. A balanced diet, adequate calories, and appropriate nutrients are the foundation for development of tissues, including bones. Adequate and appropriate nutrition is too important for all individuals. However, if one does not adhere to a diet that is optimal for bone health, supplementation with calcium and vitamin D may be necessary. A note of caution: an excessive obsession to being "thin" may affect adequate nutrition and bone health.

10 Things to Know

  1. Lactose [milk sugar] increases calcium absorption
  2. Maintain a healthy weight
  3. Don't be a couch potato
  4. Excessive fibre intake can interfere with calcium uptake
  5. Calcium is best absorbed when taken in smaller amounts
  6. Limit intake of alcohol and soft drinks
  7. Reduce caffeine intake
  8. Avoid smoking
  9. Excessive laxative use can cause calcium loss
  10. .Stress, worry, anxiety and sorrow can trigger calcium excretion.

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Payal Ahuja
Payal Ahuja is a Mumbai-based dietician and consultant. She conducts workshops on lifestyle management and weight management programmes on TV. Ahuja is also IPC-certified auditor for ISO-9001:2000, and author of the book, Combating Childhood Obesity.

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